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Now comes another reason to hie off to Tagaytay: a teahouse and bathhouse that is a feast for the senses.
A gong announces your arrival at Qiwellness Living, and the sound reverberates throughout the property. Qiwellness Living is not expansive in square-meterage, and the shy ones can take comfort in the fact that the neighbors will probably not have heard the gong.
Qiwellness Living is a three-level teahouse and bathhouse along Aguinaldo Highway in Tagaytay City. Although it is one establishment, in reality it might as well be three: it serves tea and cocktails as well as lunch and dinner, it offers specialty massage and reflexology treatments, and it has two guestrooms for those who wish to stay the night. It separates these via areas it has labeled Teahouse (dining), Bathhouse (massages) and Guesthouse (overnight stays).
Tagaytay has long been a popular weekend-retreat town for those living in Metro Manila, and it has its share of spas and healthy living establishments for many years. Qiwellness Living picked a niche that caters to the been-there, done-that guest who is looking to experience something different during his next visit to Tagaytay.
I, for one, have been for years now looking for a consistently good massage place in Tagaytay, having found most of the hotels and freestanding spas wanting in quality. The sequences are most often robotic and the experience confined to small rooms which, albeit decorated with the perfunctory flowers and scented with aromatherapy oils, limit the experience to the beginning of the massage to the time you step out with a body slick with massage oil.
Qiwellness Living uses a massage cream that not only dissipates into the skin, it also leaves it moisturized and lightly scented. But beyond the usual massage, Qiwellness also has specialty treatments that involve a rose and rice scrub (Rose Reverie, Php3,380 for two hours), activated bamboo charcoal and volcanic sand (Bamboo Bliss, Php3,180 for two hours), and one that will have you plunging from a hot pool of water to a cold one (to encourage lymphatic drainage) followed by a foot reflexology and a full-body massage (Php5,160 for couples, all for three hours). Before or after treatments, you can opt to chill at the teahouse on the second level, either sipping tea-infused cocktails such as the Shangri La La (Jack Daniels, hibiscus tea, pineapple juice) or a Green Tea mojito (Bacardi rum, green tea, lemon juice, mint leaves), or having one of their specialty tea blends.
Teas are only incidental to most restaurant menus in Tagaytay, but at Qiwellness Living, they are the attraction at its aptly named Teahouse. The owners commissioned a clay tile roof with symbolic finials to serve as the roof of the teahouse; it has now become the iconic symbol of Qiwellness Living because it is quite photogenic when shot against the serene background of Taal Lake. The teahouse has about eight specialty teas, served in small ceramic pots and modern teacups. The teas are looseleaf and can be enjoyed over and over by refreshing the pot with hot water. In addition to the usual Pu-Erh and Chrysanthemum teas, there are interesting blends such as Pearl Jasmine, Long Jing “Dragon Well” green tea and a Ginseng-Oolong combination. Ask the kitchen for one of its specialties – deep-fried mantau buns served with hoisin butter – to go with your tea.
Looking The Part
Qiwellness Living was designed by the tandem of Budji Layug and Royal Pineda. The duo had to work with limited space and build downwards along the Tagaytay ridge and still preserve the property’s unobstructed view of Taal Lake. They also had to ensure guests’ privacy on either side of the property, which is flanked by a bed-and-breakfast on the right and a private residence on the left.
How the space was designed seemed to be based on increasing restriction of access to each level. They built three levels: the first level houses the kitchen, reception area and dining area for large groups; the second level is where you will find the tea house, outdoor dining for small parties, and the “opium den,” which is the common area for massage treatments; and the third and bottom level is the private massage area, which also houses the Yin/Yang pool and a shower/sauna with one side enclosed in glass so it affords a view of the lake. The third level is also where Qiwellness built its two koi ponds. Although the ponds are visible from the uppermost floor, only the guests at the private massage area have the pleasure of emerging from their treatments to the sight of a koi pond and the sound of a seven-meter high manmade waterfall made of marble slate.
Layug and Pineda’s approach to decorating Qiwellness built on the widely used practice of combining modern architecture with Chinese antiques. Thus the bare concrete walls and floors, sharp corners and unadorned metal railings provided a clean canvas for high-back emperor chairs, apothecarist’s cabinets and giant wardrobes. In the opium den are reproduction opium beds and ceramic stools, while in the teahouse, modern marble and steel outdoor tables and chairs still retain the square design patterns of imperial Chinese furniture.
The owners shared that Qiwellness Living is still evolving and that they are planning on adding more outdoor facilities to enhance the relaxation experience. Qiwellness Living has been open for less than a year and it is showing some premature wear and tear in some places, but the service and the food more than make up for the oversights in the detail.
Nourishing The Body And Soul
This being called Qiwellness Living, of course the emphasis is always on balance. It’s quite understandable how guests would mistake this for an all-vegetarian (ergo, “wellness”), all-healthy living space; after all, we have been fed over and over about how meat is bad for you and how one should rein back on the sweets and steer clear of alcohol.
This is not so in Qiwellness because this place promotes balance, moderation in all things, listening to what your body is telling you, indulging when you feel like it, and learning when you’ve had enough. There is steak on the degustacion menu, and a glass of wine to go with it. There is duck confit, there is lamb, and there is even dessert. On the a la carte menu, you can even have a wagyu striploin, all 450 grams of it.
The nine-course degustacion menu is available only by reservation, and it changes, following the four seasons of China. It can be quite pricey if you think degustacion menus come only in small plates, but at Php2,880+ per person, it will appear to be value for money once the kitchen starts rolling out the flank steak, duck leg confit and lamb belly. The flank steak is kept hot by being presented on a hot volcanic rock, while the duck confit is served ‘a la Peking’, meaning, wrapped in pancakes and served with plum sauce. The lamb belly is quite substantial and you might want to ask for some tea in between these rich, savory plates. The plates are also quite pretty as the salads and sides sometimes come decorated with edible flowers and colorful greens.
There is, however, no coffee; perhaps an avoidance to overstimulation and the consequent inability to quiet one’s self ? This can be a problem for those who choose to stay overnight and have acquired the habit of a morning cuppa to start their day. There is not even a coffee machine or a pot of hot water for tea when you wake up in the morning. What there is, is a pitcher of lemon-flavored water put on a console inside the guest rooms. The two guest rooms are actually Qiwellness Living’s private massage rooms cleverly converted from their daytime roles by dressing them up into sleeping beds for the night. There is no TV, no media player, no morning paper; just a separate toilet and bath, a wardrobe, toiletries, towels and slippers, and the aforementioned pitcher of lemon water. The tradeoff for these standard amenities? A chance to wake up to a view of Taal Lake in the morning, and enjoy that view while doing some yoga and meditation on the deck or taking a morning dip in one of the Yin/Yang pools.
How To Enjoy Qiwellness
One has to approach Qiwellness Living with a certain mindset. For how does one explain the presence of a mojito (albeit infused with tea) in a place that has “wellness” up front? You check preconceived notions at the door and just relax and enjoy the experience.
The nine-course degustacion menu is a balance of flavors and textures (savory and sweet, smooth and rough, hot and cold, rich and clean, East and West), all told in sequence. The cocktails are meant to smoothen out the knots and help ease you into either a massage or a quiet night watching the lights flicker along the lake as the town of Batangas slips into nighttime.
The teas are quite refreshing (and invigorating, try the oolong and ginseng) and go well with the sesame seed-crusted seared tuna loin better than a fresh fruit shake.
It is possible to enjoy all the facilities (teahouse, bathhouse and private pool) without staying overnight. Qiwellness Living has packages that include exclusive use of the steam and sauna, private rooms and plunge pools for a specified number of hours. Staying overnight offers these advantages as well, but in addition, guests enjoy exclusive use of the pools and the sauna and steam rooms from 9 p.m. to 11 a.m., as well as a congee and dimsum breakfast served only to in-house guests.
Reservations are recommended if you plan to avail of the treatments and if you want to sample the nine-course degustacion menu. All other facilities and services such as the teahouse and a la carte are available without a reservation.